Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. I Teach My Former Affair Partner's Kids: I am a single middle-school teacher in his early 40s. Two years ago I had a sexual affair with the mother of two students who attended the school where I teach. A year ago, her husband caught us, and the affair ended. Until this year, I have never taught one of my former affair partner's daughters, which I guess made it easier for her husband to stomach my working at his daughters' school. Now I have the elder child in one of my classes. Because I coach the volleyball team and the younger daughter took up the sport this year, I now also have nearly daily contact with her, too. I know it was stupid and wrong to sleep with a married woman; I make no apologies for my behavior. That said, I was never in love with my affair partner, and I have no interest in rekindling our affair. She and her husband don't believe me. If I ever compliment or speak to their daughters—I assume they find out because they interrogate the girls—one or both of them will email me to tell me to watch it. She threatens to go to my boss if I interact with her daughters too much and "expose" me. Last week I gave the elder daughter a C-minus on a poorly written essay, and they accused me of punishing her because the affair ended. I do not know how I can teach or coach my students if I cannot speak to them or give them the grades they deserve. Frankly, I'm wondering if I should talk to my boss about this and take away their power to threaten me. Another part of me wants to tell them I am not interested in the mom and just want to do my job.
A: So Mom, after repeatedly and voluntarily exposing herself to you, now threatens to ruin you as a way, I suppose, of showing solidarity with her cuckolded husband. As you've learned, it's a very poor career move to have a year's worth of private parent-teacher conference at your place. I think you need to discuss your situation with a representative from your teacher's union (if you belong to one) or a lawyer, or both. Before you do anything you need to find out if your affair with a parent is a firing offense. Only once you understand your legal situation should you act. If it's safe for you to tell the principal, that certainly would disarm the threat these parents now hold over you. I always wondered how middle-school teachers do their jobs—kids that age are such an irrational mess of raging hormones. But I guess some people just never outgrow that stage. I'm feeling so sorry for the daughters. As if being a middle school student isn't hard enough, those girls now have to endure a confusing and highly emotional daily grilling from Mom and Dad about the behavior of Mr. Chips.
Q. Texting Troubles: The other day I gave a friend of mine a ride to work. While driving, my daughter sent me a message which I quickly checked and responded to. My friend took the opportunity to chide me on the danger of texting while driving, saying I was being irresponsible. I would have agreed with her until she compared what I did to drunk driving. I lost a sibling to a drunk driver when I was young, so I know just how bad it can be, and what I did is not nearly the same thing. I barely even want to talk to my friend after she hit that nerve, but now she has the gall to keep asking me to take her to work. I don't care that she gives me gas money, I don't want to go out of my way to do her any more favors until she apologizes. What's the best way to get my message across to her?
A: You're not obligated to give anyone a ride to work. The friend you were doing a favor for, however, was not wrong about texting while driving. Just take a look at the literature about the mayhem that can happen in a few seconds of removing your concentration from the road and instead being mentally and physically engaged elsewhere. I assume your friend did not know about your personal tragedy. So just be direct with her. Tell her that her comment about drunk driving was deeply upsetting to you and why. Don't demand an apology, just see if one is forthcoming and how you feel if you get one. And please, when you're driving turn off your phone. You may think you're that specially skilled driver who can text and drive, but consider how you'd feel if you were the cause of someone else's tragedy.
Q. Disconnected From Husband After Orgasm: Please help. I love my husband. He is affectionate, interesting, smart, and even does his share of the housework. The only problem is in bed. Although I usually orgasm during sex with him, instead of feeling emotional satisfaction and closeness afterward, I feel sad and disconnected. With past boyfriends, I always felt the rush of "bonding" chemicals, even when I didn't want to. What could be going wrong now? And please, don't bother to suggest couples counseling. My husband would be crushed if he knew.
A: Fake it. Not your orgasm, because you're fortunate to have one, fake those bonding feelings. Reach out to your husband, hug and stroke him. Engaging in this ritual could reorient your feelings and lift you out of your temporary sadness. What you're experiencing is not at all unusual. The French call it "la petite mort," describing the feeling of melancholy that sometimes descends post-orgasm. Just knowing you are not alone, and that you can act close even if you don't feel it, might be enough to get you past this.
Q. Presumptuous Boyfriend: I live alone in a tiny studio apartment. My fridge is almost empty because I mostly eat out. I also get rid of anything I don't use. People who come over say my place looks bare but I like it that way. Recently I went away for two weeks and gave my key to my boyfriend for emergency. He said he would come over some time and let some fresh air in so I agreed. When I got back from my trip, I found that he filled up my fridge, bought me clothes, and a bunch of household items I will probably never use for the rest of my life. He left a letter saying he didn't realize I "live like this" and that he cried when he saw I barely had anything to live on. All up, I think he would have spent about a thousand dollars on buying me all that stuff. I know I should be appreciative, but I feel annoyed and angry that he presumed I needed all of this. I now have to either get rid of everything or live with the clutter. What should I say to my boyfriend? I don't know whether to say thanks or feel creeped out.
A: Your boyfriend can't be much of a boyfriend if he's never been to your place and doesn't know that you prefer a monkish (presumably except for having sex with him) existence. It only makes sense that when going away you empty your fridge, and it's a nice gesture to find a loved one has gotten you some food. It's not such a nice gesture to get a note implying you're mentally unbalanced, the way you live is disturbed, and your boyfriend was reduced to tears to find out about the real you. That said, explain to your boyfriend you appreciate his desire to help you, but your ascetic lifestyle suits you and the suits now in your closet and the other items don't. Say you hope he kept the receipts because you just can't live in your tiny studio with all this clutter. If he doesn't understand your objections, maybe as a further act of decluttering, you need to get rid of him.
Q. He's Dating the Baby Sitter!: When I was in high school, I baby-sat for the Millers' two young kids. After I left for college, Mr. and Mrs. Miller divorced. I ran into Tom Miller (the father) at a bar a year ago. We started dating a little bit after that. We have fallen in love, and Tom has told his ex-wife about me. He said she's a little weirded out. He also confessed that the two of them thought I had a crush on him; I didn't until I ran into him as an adult. I am going to his daughter's birthday party tomorrow, and I will encounter many people I knew growing up, this time as Tom's girlfriend. I don't feel we have anything about which we should be embarrassed, but I do think the birthday will be a little awkward. I worry a bit that the ex Mrs. Miller will treat me like a baby sitter and not an adult. How do I establish myself as her equal and not the teenager who used to watch her kids?